Search for Peace:
Tamils in New Zealand
An International Conference
organised by New Zealand Tamils for all New Zealanders, Memorial Theatre
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand - 13 July 1996
Aim of the Conference
The overall aim of the conference was to inform the New Zealand public, the
media and the politicians who Tamils really are. Tamils in New Zealand as well
as those in other parts of the world feel that the aspirations and character of
the Tamil people are not properly understood. Suppression of news and
misinformation about the ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka have led to adverse and
inaccurate portrayals of the Tamil people by most media.
Background about Tamils
There were 3.5 million Tamils in Sri Lanka at the last census in 1981, which
is about the current New Zealand population and there are nearly 50 million
Tamils in South India, which exceeds the entire population of Great Britain.
Best estimates of the Tamil population in New Zealand is 3,000-3,500, with over
65% living in the Auckland and Wellington regions.
The early political history of the Tamil people in South India and Sri Lanka
was characterised by Tamil kingdoms, until the advent of European colonisation
in the 16th century. Since the end of the British rule in 1948, the oppression
and discrimination of the Tamils in Sri Lanka has led to their struggle for self
determination and independence.
In particular, the civil war against the Tamil minorities has gone on for
over 13 years and has reached genocidal proportions. The conference committee
noted the following facts which can be established without any reservations:
The Tamil political movement started in earnest in the 1950s and functioned
democratically through parliament and legal channels. This was in response to
many discriminatory legislations imposed by consecutive Sri Lankan governments
in citizenship, language, lands alienation, jobs and education. This form of
governance and Tamil politics continued from 1950 until 1983.
During this period of political participation by the Tamils, Sinhala mob
violence on a large scale was unleashed on the Tamils, notably in 1956, 1958,
1972, 1977 and 1983 killing thousands of innocent Tamils living outside their
traditional homelands. This period is noted for several aborted agreements
arrived after protracted discussions. The successive Sri Lankan governments
first concluded these agreements with Tamil political parties and later
abandoned owing to pressures from radical and religious nationalists, within the
The beginning of the Tamil armed struggle can be traced to 1974. This was
initially on an isolated and sporadic scale and was subsequent to the police
attack on a large peaceful public gathering for the very first International
Tamil Research Conference resulting in the loss of 9 civilian lives. The armed
movement operating on a low key with very small number of adherents gained
momentum since 1983.
The recent indiscriminate military action by government forces was an
unreported war, where foreign media and NGOs were kept out of the war zone by
the government. This war has caused the displacement of well over 300,000 Tamil
people in their own homelands who are living under inhumane conditions, with no
proper shelter, medication or food. The Government of Sri Lanka has put the
death toll from the civil war in Sri Lanka since 1984 at 50,000. The casualty
figures on the civilian non combatant population, including women and young
children, is well over this conservative estimate.
World Conflicts and Minority Sufferings
Since World War II, the ethnic/ religious armed conflicts taking place around
the world have increased in numbers and in severity and are happening over
protracted periods. Perpetuation of the violence is made possible by remoteness
of locations, and wars are localised and atrocities go unreported. The repeating
pattern of such conflicts is characterised by the smaller ethnic groups being
the targets of larger groups which happen to dominate the governments.
The natural advantages of the governments in power to continue with the wars
is further aided by international media indifference or inaccessibility and
international political expediency which enjoy trade and political concessions
with the offending governments. The minorities are driven to take up arms as a
last resort against government direct actions and complicity in violence.
The weight of this mindless suffering on humanity is not confined to these
faceless & voice less people, for this to be forgotten. This suffering is within
human consciousness and will perpetuate itself in ways that are not very obvious
and will continue to manifest disorder and violence.
The extent of suffering the people of Yalppanam (Jaffna) have undergone
classifies them as a suppressed people in the sense of the Geneva Convention on
Human Rights. Suppressed people have a right of self determination.
The Government of Sri Lanka has increased the suffering of this people by the
military conquest of Yalppanam in December 1995 and by using this conquest to
establish political hegemony in Yalppanam and by diluting the devolution package
that alienates the Tamils radically.
Given the background to the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, espoused by
the well thought out papers presented by five Scholars at this Conference, this
Committee summarises the appeal to the public, the media and the government of
New Zealand and of other well meaning countries as follows:-
The sufferings of the civilian population brought about by the economic
embargo of the traditional Tamil areas more than 5 years ago should be lifted
immediately to bring back some normalcy' to these regions.
International humanitarian workers and observers including international
media must be admitted to all areas of the country and the application of the
humanitarian law and human rights restored in the whole country.
The two parties to the conflict should be urged to undertake immediately
negotiations in an environment where parity of status of negotiators can be
A total bilateral cessation of hostilities must be demanded as a matter of
A just and durable settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka recognising
the right of self determination of the Tamils can be achieved only through the
intervention of members of the international community who have the
understanding of the factors responsible for the conflict and are acceptable to
The conference committee also urges that all New Zealand Tamil Societies to
open links between Tamils and all sections of the New Zealand Society at large,
including Maori, Pakeha and other ethnic groups, and to support academic
research to find ways and means of resolving the conflict.
Conference Statement Sub-Committee: Professor Peter Schalk, Professor
Margaret Trawick, Dr Jeff Sluka, Dr V Nithiyanandam, Dr Chinniah Ilanko and Dr
Ram Sri Ramaratnam
Statement Co-ordinators : Mr Paul Rajeswaran, Mr C Kumara Parathy